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A defining feature of the UK economy in recent decades has been the policy of successive governments that it doesn’t matter who owns our industries or sporting activities as long as the action stays in the UK. The Government didn’t care that all the banks in the City were foreign-owned, that our airports were owned by the Spanish, our mass car manufacturers by the Japanese, Germans and others. Likewise our football teams and newspapers.
There was even a name for this policy which I first heard in Japan over 20 years ago: the “Wimbledonisation” of the economy. At first I thought this was a reference to my football team, Wimbledon, as in plucky players punching above their weight. But they explained it was a tennis analogy. It didn’t matter that a British man never won Wimbledon because London hosted the tournament and shared in the huge revenues and prestige that the tournament brings. The same argument has been used to justify all the other sell-offs from utilities to football teams. But now we are on new ground. Andy Murray has become the first male to win Wimbledon for 77 years and may have brought the era of Wimbledonisation to an end.
Maybe the seismic plates were already changing and Murray merely reflecting them. The last two consumer products I have purchased were both made in the UK, a Rasberry Pi micro computer (designed in Cambridge and production recently switched from China to Wales) and two G-Tech vaccuum cleaners made in Worcester. We are in the midst of a startling revival of our domestic vineyards led by our sparkling whites winning global prizes against Champagne and other makes. What is happening?
It has always been on the cards that physical factors like rising prices in China and the fact that increasing automation reduces labour costs as a proportion of final output would one day shift the centre of gravity of manufacturing back towards the UK. Anecdotal evidence I have been hearing from businessmen about the advantages of having plant nearer home was confirmed in a recent survey by Business Birmingham and YouGov. It revealed that 51 percent of companies surveyed plan to boost production capacity in the UK. Almost a third of senior British manufacturing decision-makers who currently use overseas suppliers say their business plans over the next five years include sourcing more components from the UK.and nearly two-thirds (56 percent) of these say hiring more staff is likely.
Doubtless if this happens the Government will try to take the credit but the evidence is that if anything it is happening despite official policies that have led to banks refusing to extend loans to businesses, particularly smaller ones. It would be silly to credit Andy Murray with any manufacturing revival except that he has shown that, with determination and grit, it really is possible to bring it all back home.